The Sales Myth

Finally back to our regularly scheduled programming. Well, its been a long few weeks. I’ve started school, survived a Comic-Con, and I’ve even written something! (and there was much rejoicing) So, let us get started as I typically like to:

And now, moving on:

New Games

  • Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a Darklord (WiiWare)

Money troubles persist so next to nothing this week. As some of you may know, I’m a big fan of the Crystal Chronicles series so I picked this little game up at launch. While I enjoyed it, I didn’t enjoy it as much as My Life as a King, mostly because the style of gameplay prevents you from getting a real feel for the world as you did in My Life as a King. I also don’t think Square really has this digital distribution thing figured out as they broke apart Crystal Defenders and sold each half at full price and now My Life as a Dark Lord has five times the cost of the original game in planned DLC. Though, honsetly, a lot of it seems like stuff I’d pick up if I had the money, so maybe they have a better grasp of it than I give them credit for.

Job Hunt

My job hunt continues. I had an interview to work part time at the school’s print services but I ended up not getting the job, though they tell me if another position opens up, I’ll be the first choice. Still, I’m not going to sit around and wait for them to call. This week I have an interview to work at the school’s Financial Servies doing filing. I’d actually prefer this job over the print services one simply because this job is looking at 20 hours per week while at print services it was 15 per week. Five hours per week may not sound like a huge difference but it translates to an extra $40 per week and $80 per paycheck, which will help me out a lot.

Comic-Con

 Comic-Con was really difficult for me because of the financial troubles I mentioned above, still, that’s not to say the show was ruined. With a total budget (including my admission) less than what I spent on a single day last year I found plenty to see and do at this year’s convention. First the negative, however. I did end up losing my camera on my last day at the convention which really bummed me out, but I didn’t really want to let that, as big a bummer as it was, ruin my day so I was able to get past it somewhat.

As for the good stuff, well, there was plenty. I got a ton of Magic: The Gathering cards signed and got particularly lucky at artist Alex Horley’s booth. I had asked him to sign a small preview booklet that Wizards of the Coast was giving away in their game room on the Mezzanine; an item he didn’t even know existed. As a commercial artist, being able to say that Wizards of the Coast was using his art to promote their game at the largest convention of its kind in the world is something of a big deal. I was asked, by his model and collaborator, Stacy Walker, to bring back two of the booklets and she’d let me have some of Alex’ Magic: The Gathering artist proofs.

Proofs are basically copies of the cards given to an artist so he can make sure everything looks ok. The cards are identical to production MTG cards except that they have a white back (hence their nickname, whitebacks). Each artist receives 50 of each card and they make neat little collectibles. Anyways, I ended up bringing back three copies of that preview booklet and was basically told to just go wild with the proofs and take as many as I wanted. I ended up taking about 21, which the artist normally sold for 3 for $5, so I made out pretty well.

Other highlights included getting my copies of Spawn #1 and Amazing Spider-Man #300 (first appearance of Venom) signed by Todd McFarlane, some Batman stuff of mine signed by Bruce Timm, some autographs and sketches from Billy Tucci, Stjepan Sejic, and the folks at Penny Arcade. As well as this little gem:

That would be Mark Hamill holding my limited edition copy of the Shadows of the Empire graphic novel that, aside from signatures from the creative team, also includes autographs from Robert Bulloch (Boba Fett), Kenny Baker (R2-D2), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), Dave Prowse (Darth Vader), Anthony Daniels (C3-PO), and Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia). Now all that’s left are those no chance in hell folks like Billy Dee Willams, Harisson Ford, James Earl Jones, and Ian MacDiarmid. Maybe some day.

A few more highlights: I shook hands and had a short conversation with Edward James Olmos, and I made promises to pitch an idea for a Shi: Way of the Warrior game to Billy Tucci (awesome, awesome guy) next year, as well as pitch game concepts to the Penny Arcade guys for short games based on their three recent creations, Lookouts, Automata, and Jim Darkmagic (of the New Hampshire Darkmagics). Whether anyone will remember these by next year is anyone’s guess (though Billy Tucci did remember this year from last year, so I might get the chance there), and who knows whether they’ll even take me seriously come next year, but one thing I’ve learned from trying to get work in the entertainment business is that you take any chance you can get a hold of.

School

 My how time does fly. Midterms are this week. Well, they would be if any of my teachers actually gave midterms. Its pretty much just a week like any other in all of my classes, which is nice to hear. Last week my Survey of the Game Industry professor brought in his N64, we hooked it up to the projector and just played for the majority of the class. We played five rounds of Goldeneye (of which I won the one round I played in), three Mortal Kombat Trilogy 8-player tournaments (of which I won one of the two I played in), and then it went to games of Diddy Kong Racing.

Actually, I was somewhat mistaken in saying I had no midterms as we’re pitching game ideas in my Survey of the Game Industry class. Our assignment was based on GameCareerGuide.com’s recent game design challenge where we are tasked with rebooting or redesigning a video game franchise. Some of you might know that I’ve had a chip on my shoulder against Castlevania and Koji Igarashi’s (mis)handling of the series, so naturally I decided to tackle Dracula’s castle for my pitch.

This project actually felt pretty simple for me since I’ve been working on two Castlevania projects for the past six years. One being a remake of Castlevania: Legend of Darkness, which is my favorite Castlevania game to date and one who I think is completely undeserving of the reputation it has gathered after the fact (check the reviews of its predecessor, of which LoD is an improved version of, and you’ll find its average matches that of Lament of Innocence, which supposedly redeemed the 3D Castlevania).

My second project, the one I’m going to pitch, is an overambitious monument that takes Castlevania back to its action/adventure roots, removing the rpg elements while embracing, mixed with an epic storyline involving various characters with their own stories, levels, abilities, motivations, and secrets, set not only in the grandest Castle we’ve seen thus far, but across Europe as the new Belmont returns to the land of Dracula. I hope to use elements of the classic games in new ways instead of coming out of left field with ridiculous plot devices like time travel, a Vampire Killer that cannot be wielded by the Belmonts, breast-obsessed preteens, and an art direction that is both new and reminiscent of the classic games and is neither overly effeminate nor look better suited for a rave at an S&M club.

Will it ever happen? Who knows, but I’ll sure as hell try. Like a friend of mine used to say, aim for the stars, you’ll at least hit the moon.

GameObserver

 My GameObserver report’s a bit different this week as the article this week is actually an earlier draft of the one here on my blog instead of the other way around. Still, if you’re curious at all to see a few pictures or what the article looked a little earlier in its life, check it out. They also have a steady stream of interesting articles popping up all the time.

And finally, what you’ll all find infinitely more interesting than my life:

The Sales Myth

 Disclaimer: The following article is based on sales figures culled from VGChartz. If you are distrustful of VGChartz� figures or simply do not care for the site, then you might want to consider scrolling down past the article and enjoy the LE Review.

Still here? Good, let�s begin.

It�s a well known fact that third party games don�t sell well on the Wii. Its also well known that mature, or �hardcore�, games don�t sell well on the Wii. After all, Halo 3 has sold nearly 10 million units, Grand Theft Auto IV and Call of Duty 4 have sold nearly 13 million, Gears of War has sold 5 million copies, Metal Gear Solid 4 has sold 4 million copies, Mass Effect has sold 2 million copies. The only games on the Wii that approach those numbers are Nintendo�s own first party titles.

However, let�s think about things for a second. The games I mentioned and Nintendo�s first party titles are all monster sellers, no doubt about it, but are they really representative of game sales as a whole?

I�m of the mind that the industry has, in a sense, been spoiled by overhyped, over-marketed, monster blockbusters like the games I�ve listed and we seem to have come to believe that these are normal sales figures. The phenomenon is similar to looking at fashion models all the time and expecting a normal woman to look that same way. Nowadays, if a game doesn�t sell a million copies its first week, we consider it a financial bomb. However, what happens if we look at sales figures for the �other� games a little more closely? As a matter of fact, few games released, despite the console, achieve even a million units in sales in the US.

Note: From this point on, I�ll be looking at US sales figures unless otherwise noted.

Beginning at the system�s launch, Call of Duty 3 was a major title at the time. The prior game was a smash on Microsoft�s newly launched Xbox 360 and its sequel was there to greet the next two consoles of the current generation. This game logically sold best on Microsoft�s better established system. On the two newcomers, however, the Wii took the lead, selling nearly twice as many units as the same game on the Playstation 3. Still, it can be argued that the disparity in the install base so early in the console�s life played a major role in the game�s sales. Still, people never make such excuses for the PS3�s other big launch window titles like Uncharted: Drake�s Fortune and Resistance: Fall of Man, which have sold much better, but still a relatively modest 2.5 million units, combined in the US.

Speaking of which, Resistance: Fall of Man is the only Sony-produced PS3 game that has sold over a million units in the United States alone. Just a little factoid that I think should help you get an idea of what kind of game sales are more commonplace in the game industry.

Moving on, I think this sales myth is so powerful in fact, that even developers have come to believe it. Goichi Suda, aka Suda 51, has stated that the No More Heroes franchise will likely move onto a different console after No More Heroes: Desperate Struggle in order for the franchise to grow and become more successful. To be fair, he never said that it�s moving to the PS3 or 360. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, he could very well have meant that the series will appear on whatever Nintendo�s next system is. Still, his interest in Xbox� Project Natal makes that scenario unlikely.

Now, to make him want to move the franchise that has become as closely associated with the Wii as No More Heroes has the numbers must be abysmal, correct? Well, if you compare it to GTAIV, yes, they�re horrible. However, No More Heroes has managed to sell 440,000 copies worldwide. To put this in perspective, Killer 7 sold 370,000 units on the Playstation 2 and the Gamecube, combined and the PS2 alone has a larger install base than all three current gen consoles combined. To refine the perspective even more, No More Heroes on the Wii alone has sold only two-thousand or so copies less than John Woo�s Stranglehold has on the PS3 and Xbox 360 combined, which was released three months earlier.

On the violent, mature gaming side, Rockstar�s Manhunt 2 on the Wii has sold less than 100,000 fewer units than Sega�s Xbox 360 launch title, Condemned: Criminal Origins, released nearly two years earlier and 200,000 fewer units than the sequel, Condemned 2: Bloodshot has on the 360.

Namco�s Tales of Vesperia, an Xbox 360 exclusive, has sold roughly the same number of units as the Wii exclusive, Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World, despite Symphonia being released three months later.

Recently, we�ve been told that Sega-published House of the Dead: Overkill and MadWorld have been sales failures. Again, compared to Halo 3, sure but look at it this way. Overkill, which has been out for only six months, has already sold half as many copies as the PS3�s Time Crisis 4, another rail-shooter, which was released in November 2007.

Madworld, described as a flop, has sold more units than Bionic Commando has in the US across both the PS3 and 360 combined. Sure, it has a two month head start, but Bionic Commando is on two consoles where there is apparently an audience for mature, hardcore games.

Even more recently, again, Sega-published The Conduit, having only sold 74,000 units its first month, is being considered a flop. Roughly speaking that�s half of what Dead Space sold on the PS3 its first month. Then you consider that Dead Space was worked on by an experienced developer, Visceral games, formerly EA Redwood, whose prior credits include The Godfather and The Simpsons Game, further compounded by the fact that publishing giant, EA, was intensely promoting the game prior to its release (a comic book series and an animated movie all released prior to the game). Then you look at what the Conduit was bringing, a small developer�s first major release and till now have released mostly licensed titles, downloadable games, and ports, a much smaller publisher, and nowhere near the marketing push Dead Space received, and the sales of The Conduit begin looking more respectable.

Notice, I�ve used only �hardcore,� third-party titles in my comparisons, the very games that we are convinced just do not sell on the Wii. Of course, the rub is that there are few games we can reasonably compare across the Wii and its HD-competition. If we chose to move beyond this smaller pool of titles, the Wii looks even more attractive.Rock Band 2 on the Wii has sold similar numbers to the PS3 version, despite the Wii version being released only six months after the very late port of the first Rock Band onto the console. Even then, the very late, feature-stripped port of the original Rock Band has sold more copies than the PS3 version released seven months prior.

On the Guitar Hero front, the Wii is a juggernaut, having sold over 3 million copies of Guitar Hero 3 and 2 million copies of Guitar Hero: World Tour. On the Xbox 360, only Guitar Hero 3 has sold more copies than its Wii equivalent, but only a scant, 200,000 in the US. Worldwide, the Wii version still reigns supreme.

Still, I have hope and believe that they’re realizing that the Wii isn’t the commercial death trap it is often portrayed as. For example, go on just about any message board or forum and you could probably find more than a few people claiming that the upcoming Silent Hill: Shattered Memories should be developed for next gen systems because it won’t sell on the Wii. However, when was the last time you heard Konami bragging about the sales of Silent Hill: Homecoming? It could be because in the US, Homecoming sold fewer than a quarter of a million copies across the PS3 and 360, combined. To put it in perspective, MadWorld has sold more copies on the Wii than Homecoming did on the 360. No More Heroes has sold more copies than Homecoming has on the PS3 and 360 combined. Yet we are told that both of these Wii exclusives are financial failures and assume Silent Hill did fine on the HD consoles, despite the fact that Homecoming surely cost more to produce than either of these Wii exclusives.

I think developers are getting the hint because it seems that the Wii is fast becoming a home for horror games, a genre flying completely in the face of what traditional knowledge and the gaming press tells us sells on the Wii. Over the next year or so, the Wii will become home to Cursed Mountain, Dead Space: Extraction, Ju-on: The Grudge, Calling, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, and Resident Evil: Darkside Chronicles if you wish to count it. In addition, there’s always Fatal Frame IV that we keep hoping sees a domestic release (hey, if they can release Cho Aniki on the virtual console, they can release Fatal Frame IV at retail), and it seems that N-Space has been shopping Winter around to publishers again after having spruced up the demo and added Motion Plus support.

To conclude, I will say again, most games do not sell ten million units, or 5, or even one million units across a single console. It happens, yes, but those are the exceptions, not the rule. Valve�s amazing Orange Box, nor EA�s Dead Space, Mirror�s Edge, SKATE, SKATE 2, Sony�s popular Uncharted, Ratchet & Clank: Future, LittleBigPlanet, Killzone 2,, Microsoft-published Blue Dragon, Lost Odyssey, Perfect Dark Zero, Capcom�s Devil May Cry 4, Street Fighter IV, and many, many, many other titles have failed to reach a million units in sales on a single system in the United States. Some haven�t even reached that number worldwide.

Games like Madworld, and The Conduit aren�t flops because they sold less than 100,000 units their first month, they�re normal, and games like Halo 3 and Grand Theft Auto IV aren�t the norm, they�re exceptions. Perhaps its all the marketing of these kinds of exceptional titles that make it seem like every game launched is a 2 million-over-the-first-weekend blockbuster; we keep track of those games, we expect them, and really just ignore everything else, making it seem like those big launches are the order of the day. In truth, the bulk of the industry is closer to that �everything else� we don�t follow as closely and don�t notice their half-million lifetime sales after a couple of years.

Granted, I�m sure every publisher out there would love all their games to sell five million copies, but I�m also sure that they know the grand majority of them won�t. As observers of the industry, we remember the games that have sold millions of copies. The games that don�t, well, they get played and they work their way into our shared culture, but we rarely stop to wonder how many copies that game was able to sell. Unless we see the article on GameObserver, IGN, or Kotaku telling us how many or how few copies of a game have been sold, we probably wouldn�t care, in the same way that we really don�t care how much a particular movie made at the box office.

And finally, our last show for the day:

Sonic Adventure 2 Birthday Pack (JP)

sonic adventure 2

I believe this is my second review of a Japanese item, this time for the Japanese Dreamcast. Let’s take a look.

  • Sonic Adventure 2
  • Sonic 10th Anniversary soundtrack
  • Sonic 10th Anniversary Coin
  • Sonic 10th Anniversary Booklet
  • Trifold case
  • Box

Sonic Adventure 2: I believe this is the standard Japanese Dreamcast version of the game. The disc has the Sonic 10th Anniversary logo stamped on it, but I have a feeling every copy of the game had it.

Sonic 10th Anniversary soundtrack: This golden disc has 23 tracks spanning music from the original Sonic the Hedgehog to Sonic Adventure 2. Some tracks contain more than one song, like the final track, which contains all the Sonic Adventure 2 character theme songs.

Sonic 10th Anniversary Coin: A golden coin with the Sonic 10th Anniversary logo on one side and Happy Birthday Sonic, the character, and the date on the other. I couldn’t tell you what its made of.

Sonic 10th Anniversary Booklet: This small white booklet chronicles Sonic’s creation and development in English and Japanese.

Sonic 10th Anniversary Booklet: This small white booklet chronicles Sonic’s creation and development in English and Japanese.

Trifold case: The trifold case holds all the Sonic 10th Anniversary materials in a triptych fashion. The cover has the Sonic 10th Anniversary logo and opening it gives you a list of all the Sonic games up to that point.

Box: A cardboard box that holds the game and the trifold (with the bonus items inside).

This edition of the game was sold at the regular price in Japan during the first two days of the game’s release, July 23 & 24, 2001. In that way it kind of reminds me of the recent BlazBlue Collector’s Edition which was sold at the regular price to those who pre-ordered the game. Because the upgrade was basically free, its a little more difficult to criticize the contents, not that there is much to criticize.

From the start its obvious that the point of this release is to celebrate Sonic’s anniversary as opposed to focusing on the game itself as is the purpose of most premium editions. What is included is a nice stroll down Sonic’s early years. The music on the soundtrack will bring back a lot of memories for those old enough to have them. The booklet is a nice chronicle of Sonic’s creation, development and growth. A tad on the short side, admittedly, but the book is still a nice collection of images and factoids. The coin…is well just that. More of a trinket than anything, but one that is infinitely more appreciated than the generic Africa necklace from the Resident Evil 5 Collector’s Edition, or the Poker Chip from the Rainbow Six: Vegas 2 Limited Edition.

This edition isn’t terribly difficult to find as there are maybe a dozen or so copies on ebay at the moment with prices ranging from about $34 to $50. I’m not really sure how enticing that is to everyone. While Sonic’s popularity in terms of game sales seems healthy enough, his reputation is in shambles among the video game community. I can see someone interested in this to memorialize Sonic’s better days, though I don’t know how many would pay the, albeit reasonable, price to get this version for that reason. Whatever the reason, its a neat little edition that pays tribute to one of gamings great mascots.

Aaaaand I’m done! Don’t have much else to talk about at this point. I’m still waiting for my bonus soundtrack for my Tales of Vesperia Limited Edition. Its going on a year since the game was released and the distribution of the additional bonus. Namco is really not making any fans here. Oh well, I’ll keep waiting and send them off an angry e-mail when I can’t take it anymore.

Until next time!